For more than a decade, 20 million wetland acres and 2 million miles of streams – including many in North Carolina – were left unprotected, despite the federal Clean Water Act. Experts say the gap in coverage was the unintended result of two Supreme Court decisions. On Tuesday, the Obama administration proposed a new rule to clarify which types of water have Clean Water Act protection. “This protects us moving forward,” said Tim Gestwicki, chief executive of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, “and certainly as North Carolina grows, this is going to be really important to protect the overall quality of life in North Carolina.” According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the rate of wetlands loss accelerated by 140 percent from 2004 to 2009, the years immediately following the Supreme Court rulings. A public comment period is expected to begin in a few weeks on the proposed rule. Jan Goldman-Carter, senior manager of wetlands and water resources for the National Wildlife Federation, said the the 2001 and 2006 Supreme Court decisions have confused and limited the scope of the Clean Water Act, making it much more difficult to maintain and restore the state’s streams, headwaters and freshwater wetlands. “A lot of the really important trout streams, headwater systems and their adjacent wetlands under this rule are now clearly covered,” she said. “That will be a huge improvement in fish and wildlife habitat and clean water for North Carolina waters.” Gestwicki said the clarification this rule would provide extends beyond benefits to the land. “For mountain trout anglers to Piedmont bass enthusiasts and duck hunters in eastern North Carolina, this is a real important, critical step towards protecting our sporting heritage and our outdoor future in North Carolina,” he said. More than 242,000 miles of rivers and streams in North Carolina, and related recreation activities produce more than $3 billion a year in economic activity for the state.
Information about the new rule is online at www2.epa.gov/uswaters.